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Unformatted text preview: new left review 8 mar apr 2001 123 peter wollen SITUATIONISTS AND ARCHITECTURE T his is not a conventional scholarly essay. Instead I want to discuss a number of topics addressed by the Situationists, making a kind of collage of commentaries on what seem to me to be key elements of their thought in relation to archi- tecture and the city—which were, indeed, centrally important issues for them. These elements are as follows: 1, the minaret; 2, the gypsy camp; 3, dérive ; 4, Mad King Ludwig; 5, the Postman Cheval; 6, the Merzbau ; 7, Le Corbusier; 8, Paris; 9, psychogeography; 10, Love on the Left Bank ; 11, white bicycles; 12, détournement ; 13, the Cavern of Anti- Matter; 14, New Babylon; 15, Watts; 16 , the Architecture of Despair; 17, Vienna’s Place—and fi nally: 18, Albisola. 1 I begin with the minaret. In 1948 Asger Jorn wrote an article titled ‘What is an Ornament?’, which was published in an obscure Danish journal. That same year, he had spent time in Djerba, Tunisia, which I believe is the same place that Paul Klee visited and which had such an infl uence on his calligraphic style of drawing. Among the illustrations to Jorn’s essay was one juxtaposing a ‘horsetail’ and a minaret. The horsetail is a kind of plant, whose structure is very similar to that of the minaret depicted next to it—a kind of telescopic series of towers, each with a nar- rower diameter than the last, piled on top of each other, fi nally ending with a tiny little turret at the topmost point. (The picture of the horsetail looks as if it was one of Blossfeldt’s famous series of photographs of plants, but I have not been able to check this.) The point Jorn wishes to make is summed up in his caption: ‘Horsetail and Minaret. They resem- 124 nlr 8 ble each other, not because the minaret is a copy of a plant but because this is the natural mode of form in matter.’ Underneath, there is a simi- lar juxtaposition of a totem pole and a chestnut branch, also lookalikes. Jorn observes that ‘the nature of art is not to imitate the external forms of nature (naturalism) but to create natural art. Natural sculpture which is true to its material will be identical to nature’s forms without seeking to imitate.’ Architecture and sculpture, I might note, here seem to be treated as if they were more or less the same thing. Asger Jorn had gone to Djerba in order to confi rm the views put forward by the Swedish architectural theorist, Erik Lundberg. According to Jorn, writing in the late 1940s, ‘Erik Lundberg seems to be the fi rst in the civi- lized world, America included, who has been able to give a defi nition of the opposition between the classical-European and the oriental attitudes to art which is correct, true to reality, and which offers a perspective for explaining works of art and their nature.’ For Jorn, the pairing of European versus oriental ran together with other pairings, such as classical versus spontaneous, idealist versus materialist, Apollonian...
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This note was uploaded on 07/27/2010 for the course ARCH 4140 taught by Professor Mical during the Spring '10 term at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
- Spring '10